HOW TO TRACK DOWN YOUR ARMY ANCESTORS
Do you want to explore the career of a soldier from the past? Phil Tomaselli surveys the variety of records – compiled over hundreds of years – on Britain’s different fighting units
There have been soldiers in Britain of one kind or another for hundreds of years. Often these were men who had received training and remained civilians, ready to be called upon, but from 1660 onwards these were being steadily replaced by full time professionals.
Early records are patchy and only occasionally provide information directly useful to the genealogist but as time went on more and more records have survived and are available for the careful researcher to investigate and, hopefully, find out about their ancestors who served. One thing it’s important to point out – these records were not created with the genealogist in mind. Most were created so that the central authorities, which doled out the sometimes pitiful amounts spent on defence, could ensure the money was being spent properly. If a soldier died or deserted without getting a pension their personal records weren’t kept.
Until the latter half of the 19th century, responsibility for wives and children lay with the regiments and their records, if they still exist, remain with them. From the 1860s central government began to keep records of wives and families, but it was only around the First World War that this became systematic, as widows became due to receive pensions.
For all these warnings there are scores of types of records that can be searched, many online, and the diligent researcher should be able to find information on the soldier himself, where he served, what medals he might have been awarded, where he was enlisted and possibly something about his family as well.
British soldiers wait to leave for France in the Second World War, when 3,800,000 men and women served in the army
British army grenadiers, wearing their distinctive uniform mitre caps, c1750